Dave Concannon

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In Pure Water, No Fish

Benefit vs Branding

This article on “The little-known secret to choosing a web designer” inspired me enough to blow the cobwebs off this site and write something. A quote:

Designers who don’t understand that websites are business assets which must achieve specific business objectives, which in turn are tied to revenue goalsare not actually designers at all. They are artists. Giving them your money is not an investment in creating a business asset

Read it. Love it. Slap anyone who drones platitudes in fuzzy saccharine tones about unmeasurable qualities that are likely to be completely coincidental to your businesses success.

That sort of touchy-feely ‘GO TEAM!’ nonsense is total cargo cult. Let’s take a ridiculous example: A hypothetical business owner, Bob, goes out on his morning walk to buy a coffee. When he gets back to the office, he checks his online sales report and sees that he’s sold three units. The next day, he comes back with his regular cup o’ joe and finds that he’s sold 5 units. He puzzles his good fortune, wondering what caused this jump in sales… and realizes – he’s wearing red socks! Awesome. He sends an office-wide memo to make sure everyone in the company wears red socks at all times, and begins browsing the website of the local Porsche dealership.

Bullshit? Maybe… except back in the time of chimpanzees I worked for a ‘Bob’. All the positive-trending metrics and analytics in the world didn’t matter, because to Bob the site ‘just looked wrong’. It didn’t matter that the people we were selling to weren’t Bob, didn’t think like Bob, and didn’t like the same sorts of things Bob liked. It didn’t matter that under empirical measurement more people visited the site. It didn’t matter that the changes we made ensured more of these visiting people told us they were interested in our products and wanted to write us cheques. It just mattered that it ‘didn’t feel right’.

That right there my friends is a fantastic barometer for incompetence. If you work somewhere that can deny people trying to give them money because they’re more interested in the branding/passion/making-a-difference than rock-solid metrics, you’re better off leaving them to it.

Two more very simple questions one can ask to see if you’re screwed. The absolute basics:

  1. How much does it cost to attract and sign a new customer?
  2. How much will we make from a customer over their lifetime of using our products?

The answer to these should be a ballpark range, or a solid number, or at least an indication that they know what they hell you’re talking about even if they tell you to mind your own damn business. If you ask and there’s an uncomfortable silence, they get a confused look in their eye like their breakfast burrito is going to repeat on them, or they start off into a long nebulous rant about ‘potential’ / ‘building a presence’ / ‘pushing the envelope’… well, at least you have time to start working on a side project before they run out of cash.

If you’re smart, know your way around technology, and care about what you do – everyone everywhere is looking to hire you right about now.

Oh, I get it now…

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Weekly Retweet 24 May 2011

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The weekly retweet

A recap on any interesting links I posted or retweeted this week

Weekly Retweet – April 12th 2011

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The weekly retweet

A recap on any interesting links I posted or retweeted this week

  • #LeanStartup works: “How did I get 38 willing-to-pay customers before writing code?” @artsyeditor http://bit.ly/emc34z (Via @ecbln)
  • @AllanCavanagh Excellent, an excuse to watch this video again: http://youtu.be/mj5IV23g-fE // This guy is my new hero. (Via @emordino)
  • “Persuasion Classroom: Don’t try to help everyone” : http://bit.ly/hcjVwo // Absolutely Agree. (Via @ramit)

Weekly Retweet April 7 2011

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The weekly retweet

A recap on any interesting links I posted or retweeted this week

  • Feynman Algorithm http://j.mp/i47K3y (Via @newsycombinator)
  • Oh, @Reddit! Baby got… child rearing hips & store of body fat to nourish developing offspring: http://j.mp/i2RwOr (Via @thinkgeek)
  • Salads are a quick and easy dish if you don’t give a shit about your guests #OnionCooking http://onion.com/g73tEU (Via @TheOnion)
  • when stuffing 100 envelopes it is faster (& less error prone) to do “one piece flow” vs “mass production” http://bit.ly/fQQLbi (Via @cdixon)

Weekly Reweet – March 29 2011

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The weekly retweet

A recap on any interesting links I posted or retweeted this week

  • Interesting article on how these black parents (who adopted a white daughter) are treated: http://bit.ly/f7I4Ss (Via @ramit)
  • (1) keep it simple, (2) make it something you’d actually use, (3) iterate. http://j.mp/f29qTf (Via @newsycombinator)
  • Sad @NYTimes: Losing Our Way http://nyti.ms/dRWKDA (Via @CaleyConcannon)

On Creating Useful Things

We do not purchase an automobile, for example, merely to own some machinery. Indeed, it is not machinery we are buying at all, but what we can have by way of it: a means of rapidly carrying us from one location to another, an object of envy for others, protection from the weather. Similarly, a radio must cease to exist as equipment and become sound. A perfect radio will draw no attention to itself, will make it seem we are in the very presence of the source of its sound. Neither do we watch a movie screen, nor look at television. We look at is what on television, or in the movie, and become annoyed when the equipment intrudes – when the film is unfocused or the picture tube malfunctions.

When machinery functions perfectly it ceases to be there – but so do we.

From ‘Finite and Infinite Games‘ by James P. Carse.

Weekly Retweet – 15/12/2010

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The weekly retweet

I’ve switched to American date formats… this might be the end.

Four Months Worth of Book Reviews in Ten Minutes

It’s been a while since I’ve written any book reviews, though I’ve still been reading at a normal pace. My time has been taken up on a few interesting personal projects. Anyway, I thought I’d do a quick rundown of what I’ve read and whether it’s worth a look. In the unlikely event that anyone wants a longer review, just let me know.

General Business Topics

  • How to Build a Business and Sell it for Millions by Jack Garson.  A manual on the process of selling a successful business. It starts from the premise that you need to be aware up front that selling the business is an option so that when the time comes it’s set up to be convenient. Recommended. (A signed copy of this was kindly given to me by Giang Biscan).
  • Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim. Do you want to be an entrepreneur, and if so how do you go about it? It’s a good book, but I don’t think I’m the target audience.
  • The Little Big Things – 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence by Tom Peters.  This is sort of a stream-of-consciousness collection of thoughts on corporate excellence. I didn’t like this much, it felt unstructured and sort of thrown together and it bored the pants off me. YMMV
  • Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston. Fantastic read. Livingston interviews successful startup founders about the chaotic days of company building. Real in-the-dirt war stories from the dot com days, really enjoyable and inspiring.

Creativity

  • Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. This is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while. This is very relevant for anyone selling a technology product, as it digs into how to bridge the gap between all the information you know about your product (The ‘curse of knowledge’) and what your customers need is. Highly recommended.
  • A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young. This is a manual on how to train your mind to be more creative. I’m not sure why I read this one, as I already have more ideas than time to do anything with them. It’s short, pretty common sense (to me maybe), but enjoyable.
  • It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden. A guide to making the best of yourself by an award winning creative. Contrarian advice with a useful message.
  • All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin. A book on framing your story for the audience you’re trying to reach, and telling authentic stories that resonate. Maybe I’ve read too many of Seth’s books at this stage, but this just felt like ‘more of the same’. A good read if you haven’t read some of his other stuff.

Design

  • Cadence & Slang by Nick Disabato. A fantastic book spawned from a kickstarter project. This covers the gamut of product design, usability, and technology in one really nice looking book. Concepts that mildly annoyed me were the occasionally proscriptive tone ‘A product should…‘, and some minor philosophical ideas which go against the Lean Startup philosophy which I’m fond of. Very comprehensive, beautifully designed book covering a huge breadth of topics really well.
  • Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter. How to create technology that is intrinsically social by figuring out the interactions of the users and their needs at the outset, and keep users coming back. Really digs into the specifics of social oriented technology design very well. Ten demerits for a totally out-of-place chapter on “Authentic Conversations”. Puh-leaase.

As a break from the usual business books, I also read “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand to see what all the fuss is about. The Fountainhead has more straw men than an archery contest, but the underlying message is an interesting take on ignoring the status quo and creating something of value for the sake of creation alone. Great arguments against design-by-committee, and contrarian attitudes in general. The book doesn’t quite explain the difference between a creative loner genius who the world doesn’t have the intelligence to recognize and the loner nutcase who’s just deluding himself, but maybe they’re different sides of the same coin seen from different perspectives.

Most interesting point that I took from the Fountainhead is that people will happily sink into whatever tripe that society throws at them. Rand describes the sort of moronic time-wasting that people spend their time on in the 1930s, and it’s no different to today judging by the amount of X-factor and “the apprentice” tweets offending my eyes every week. Bitter rant aside – go read some books. I’m going back to writing code.

Weekly Retweet – November 16th 2010

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The weekly retweet

Wondering what I’ll think of this in a years time.

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